Covid-19 Impacts and the Future of Cities

GEOG/GD 464 Student Summer 2020

Local cities have been doing their part to help stop the spread of Covid-19. Some of the main focuses have been on food and transportation, physical distancing, and access to clean water and basic sanitization. Throughout this class, we have explored both locally, and internationally the difficulties and resiliencies that Covid-19 has put on not only cities but their surrounding areas. 

            As far as food systems are concerned, the main fear for many was access to food and the affordability of it. Transportation showed adaptability by not charging for rides, only having their back doors open, and in many transit systems they had every second seat blocked off to help with physical distancing. Physical distancing was enforced (to the best of its ability) by putting up signs, asking people to limit how many family members go in public/to the store, as well as limiting the number of people aloud into stores. As far as access to clean water and basic sanitization, that looks different in different cities, all around the world. 

Many countries were unprepared and almost caught off guard, while some places aren’t able to do anything to prepare due to their local demographics. Some of the current concerns have included: access to adequate shelter, water for sanitization, food security, as well as available healthcare resources to help those who become infected. One of the biggest concerns/individual responsibilities is to social distance, and not get together in groups. 

            In places like Canada and other first-world countries, we were put on lockdown to help slow the spread/flatten the curve, but the article Africa is woefully ill-equipped to cope with covid-19 explains how many countries, self-isolation is an unreasonable ask. In some of the African countries, they need to go out every day or two to get fresh food and water, which means both going to the market and congregating to get water, as well as continuing to work to be able to afford their basic food items. There is no option to hoard goods like what happened in countries like Canada, which then brings up the conversion about food security, and it also was a further issue due to the lack of sanitization. 

When Covid-19 first emerged in Canada, many people went overboard and began hoarding food and cleaning supplies. For example, canned goods, pasta, breads, and meats. The Webinar Food Security and the Global Pandemic on April 30th talks about the difficulties between 3 locations in Canada: Abbotsford, British Columbia; Calgary, Alberta; and Hastings County, Ontario. Although the effects of the pandemic are both similar and different across the country, there were a few points that stood out to me, that some people may not have realized. 

Usage of food banks has significantly increased, but there are many barriers for both supply and access.  Overall, there are less resources available to them (for example, less people donating food as it is already hard to find, less people volunteering due to the fear of contracting Covid-19, etc.). This has opened some areas to the complex issues of food purchasing power and food production. Food purchasing power has come down significantly as many people have seen job losses, which then leads to the ability to afford and purchase food, as well as the safety/risk of actually going to the store to purchase food. We are seeing this constraint across all demographics spread throughout Canada, and beyond. On the other hand, food production has been impacted due to farms having an abundance of food, but no one purchasing from them, due to majority of larger farms having restaurants as their main clients, and with restaurants either closed or working at a very limited capacity, they are losing money and therefore will hurt future business prospects. 

Food is one of the top basic needs that people have reached out for, which is as high on the basic needs scale as housing and homelessness. British Columbia has the largest number of food services (meal programs, food banks, etc.) at 828 programs throughout the province, which makes up almost 30% of all of Canada. (Homelessness Hub, 2012).  Although there has been some pressure alleviated from the food bank sites, by distributions done through schools for families in need, by offering pick up times and/or delivery where needed. There is still not enough resources and volunteers to reach everyone asking for assistance, at least not all at once, but these programs are a positive step in the right direction.

This relates to tactical urbanism, which was a “big picture” idea within our course. “Tactical Urbanism” is where temporary/ “pop-up” changes to a local environment, meant to improve/help local neighborhoods during a time of need (for example, during a pandemic).  In the foreground of Covid-19, it has become apparent that many public streets and businesses have had a drastic response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Although the use of popular public places were closed (playgrounds, malls, pools, skating rinks, movie theatres, etc.), people have been encouraged to get outdoors and enjoy the fresh air, providing they still are within the social distancing measures. This coincides with the lecture Planning the Post Pandemic City in the sense that we need to look further into how we plan our spaces, rather than just “designing a beautiful public space”. 

            In the CNN article Our cities may never look the same after the pandemic, it explains how “six feet” could be the new backbone to future planning. Whether it be cities or public spaces, it will be an important focus so that we will be able to stay out in our communities, in the event of a future pandemic. We also have to think about how daily life will continue while needing to stay 6-feet apart, as people currently are either going overboard and getting mad at people for getting too close, or not thinking distancing is a real thing and continuing to get in your personal space, there doesn’t seem to be much of an “in-between” standpoint.  

            Chapter 2 of Tactical Urbanism shows us how in Woonerf, Netherlands, there is an entire community created towards making a safe place for people a priority, rather than just roadways for vehicles. For example, markets, block parties, and similar events, they block off the roadways for a temporary amount of time, and people are able to walk in places where it is normally too busy to step foot onto the road. This gives a temporary sense of people being able to take control of the public spaces which surround their communities and neighborhoods. 

During this class we have looked at a handful of important topics within our local cities. These topics include: Transit/Transportation, Food Systems and Food Security, Children and Play, Public Systems, Homelessness and Housing, and Culture and Arts. Each topic requires extensive research and planning when it comes to urban planning both during and post-pandemic, including how we can change for a sustainable future with the current pandemic changes in mind. 

For our Citystudio group project, we focused on Housing and Homelessness, both during pandemic and post-pandemic. We found this was an important part of future urban planning in the sense that homeless are a highly populated population. The definition of homeless is “the situation of an individual or family without stable, permanent, or appropriate housing, or the immediate prospect, means, and ability of acquiring it” (Homelessness Hub, 2012). 

In the City of Abbotsford alone, there were an average of 250 homeless people between the years of 2017 and 2018, within a single 24-hour count. I predict that those numbers have increased to closer to 300 (if not beyond), due to the cost of living continuing to rise, and the level of income not rising fast enough. There are many reasons why a person is homeless, ranging from: Low income, high rent, addictions, discrimination, mental health, criminal history, no income, disability, having pets, and for some, it is their personal choice (Living Homelessness, 2018) .

            Although we cannot combat homelessness in a single-semester course, we can at least propose ideas to help them protect themselves from diseases, such as Covid-19. Within our project we chose to focus on portable handwashing stations, which would be beneficial to not only homeless, but those of vulnerable populations which frequent areas such as parks, bus stops, and shelters. This would allow people to have access to clean, hot water at any time of the day, even in some remote areas near where homeless people congregate, due to the availability of propane handwashing systems. This may not be the answer on how to solve homelessness, but it is a step towards giving them the opportunity to protect themselves from common diseases. 

                        The future of Cities, post-pandemic, I see staying very similar to the way things are now. Social distancing, no large gatherings, staying home if you have any sign of illness, limiting the number of people in public places, but having outdoor recreation facilities open (eg: waterparks, outdoor pools, lakes, parks, etc.), and increasing the way we have access to information. For example, having a way to track where you have visited (such as an app), in the event where a store or public venue were to have a patron or an employee become ill, they could send an alert to all those who may have been in contact with the infected person, based on them checking in on their app. This will be able to help slow and track the spread on a wider scale, and it will help with future planning, and being able to use the data to see which locations are working out better than others in light of precautions in urban cities. 

References: 

Ababa, A., & Johannesburg, G. (2020, March 26). Africa is woefully ill-equipped to cope with covid-19. Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2020/03/26/africa-is-woefully-ill-equipped-to-cope-with-covid-19

City of Chilliwack, 2020. Retrieved from: https://www.chilliwack.ca

Food Security and the Global Pandemic (2020). HelpSeeker. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LJEGp-n52Q&feature=youtu.be

Holland, O. (2020, May 10). Our cities may never look the same again after the pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/style/article/cities-design-coronavirus/index.html

The Homeless Hub. (2012). Retrieved from https://homelesshub.ca/

Living Homelessness [PDF]. (2018). City of Abbotsford.

Lydon, M., Garcia, A., & Duany, A. (2015). Tactical urbanism: Short-term action for long-term change. Washington (D.C.): Island Press.

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